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Opening statement to kick off Grenfell blaze inquiry

The chairman of the public inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire will deliver his opening statement in the first public hearing of the contentious probe.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge chosen by Prime Minister Theresa May to lead the inquiry, will give his address at the Grand Connaught Rooms in central London.

The former Court of Appeal judge will not take questions following the hearing, which is expected to last around 45 minutes.

Survivors and victims’ families will be able to watch live on a screen in Notting Hill Methodist Church, where they are likely to be listening intently to the language and tone of Sir Martin’s opening.

The chairman faced anger from the community in a series of public meetings designed to help shape the terms of reference but, once these were announced, the inquiry was criticised for excluding an examination of wider social housing policy.

Campaigners had pressed for the probe to scrutinise the systemic issues underlying the cause of the tragedy on June 14, when at least 80 people died.

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A silent march is planned for later on Thursday evening at the same church where the hearing will be screened.

Labour has warned the Government the inquiry should not be reason to delay improvement measures to tower blocks.

Shadow housing minister John Healey, in a letter to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, said: “Thirteen weeks after the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, it is astonishing that ministers still cannot tell tenants and the public how many of the country’s 4,000 high-rise tower blocks are not safe, that promises of financial support for urgent work have not been honoured, and that the support for Grenfell survivors is still hopelessly inadequate.”

On the eve of the inquiry’s opening, it emerged j ust one in 50 (2%) of the UK’s social housing tower blocks has a full sprinkler system.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Breakfast also found that 68% of the council and housing association-owned blocks have just one staircase through which to evacuate.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton told the broadcaster she supported retrofitting towers built before 2007, when sprinklers were made compulsory in new-build high rises over 30 metres tall in England.

Mr Healey urged Mr Javid to fund retrofitting sprinkler systems in light of the research.

(PA)

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